Players in danger of falling between club and county, warns John Sugrue

Kerry U20 football manager John Sugrue is concerned players will suffer if they are not allowed to join county training once their clubs exit their championships.
Players in danger of falling between club and county, warns John Sugrue
Kerry U20 football manager John Sugrue
Kerry U20 football manager John Sugrue

Kerry U20 football manager John Sugrue is concerned players will suffer if they are not allowed to join county training once their clubs exit their championships.

The former Laois senior boss is hoping the GAA show the same flexibility displayed by the Government in fast-tracking phases of reopening society following the lockdown and permit players to train in small county pods providing their clubs have no further championship action.

Sugrue is fearful the start-stop nature of the transition between club and county, which could leave some county players idle for four weeks or more until September 14, the official inter-county training start date, will have a detrimental effect on elite footballers and hurlers.

As he explained: “The GAA are trying to draw a line in the sand to protect the clubs, which is fair enough. We should have really good, strong county championships as a result of this turnaround by the GAA in the calendar. It has the potential to be very intriguing.

“But on the flipside of that, if I was a guy who was knocked out of the club championship, let’s say in mid-August, and he has nothing then for a month — I think we could be neglecting our players’ needs in that window as they try then to get themselves up to inter-county level.

“I’m all for protecting the clubs. Until such time as a player is knocked out of their county championship, they should be spending no time on the field in an inter-county scenario. However, there is a small anomaly there. There might be almost like a month of an off-season there that is not necessary for a player and it’s not good for a player.”

As Laois manager in 2018, Sugrue openly admitted to organising a training camp for his panel in his native South Kerry simply because the turnaround after the club month of April to their opening Championship game was too tight. As punishment, the county lost home advantage in their first Allianz League game last season, with which he had no issue, although he was dismayed by other counties' "evasive" determination to avoid such a penalty.

Does he believe the September 14 date will be respected now that there will be punishments?

“It very much depends on the security or the insecurity of the person at the helm of the county team, I think. Insecurity will ultimately lead to panic and lead to the necessity to do something off the cuff in this scenario given that this is a once-off.

“You don't want players losing out on high quality action. Up to the time their interest ends in the county championship, they will have exposure to that. But from there to the time they can gather again as a county squad is a window of weakness in the GAA with regard to facilitating players.”

Sugrue’s Kerry U20s will face Galway in an All-Ireland semi-final on October 17 or 18 and he hopes to have clarity on what exactly he can do with his panel prior to then in the form of team meetings, analysis or walk-throughs. He would aspire to having two clear weekends to train them prior to that.

But the Renard man would like to believe no club/county player is at a loose end after their club commitments are over.

“Why can’t small pods of players whose clubs are out of the championship come together? Why not facilitate them so that they can play at a high level in mid-October as opposed to having to pull back?

“This is all about protecting the club but once the club is finished in the championship are we protecting the club anymore? I don’t think we are. I think what we’re doing is hindering the player. Realistically, a player’s next focus after his club exit the championship is county and we’re hindering them from being involved.

“The big thing is trying to decipher when county managers actually take or rob players from clubs when it is unnecessary. The county championship is the line and when a club is knocked out their players should be allowed to be facilitated back towards county training. Up until that moment, it should be forbidden and sanctions should be there, but I just think there is an unnecessary gap there where we are neglecting our players as opposed to facilitating them.

“Everyone is trying to work their way through this and what has happened is unprecedented. You’d hope that these little intricacies can be added over the next few weeks. Maybe there will be more development of the thought process and people say, ‘This is better and we can modify.’ The Government went away and modified their five-step phases so hopefully the GAA will do the same to improve the experience for the player.”

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